Security for Multirobot Systems


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Autonomous robots have created a major area of research in computer science era. But in the literature on multirobot systems, security has gotten relatively short shrift. To sort this issue, MIT’s researchers have developed a new technique to prevent malicious hackers from commandeering robot teams’ communication networks.

Generally, the algorithms used in multirobot systems has a voltage procedure to decide a course of action. Thus, each robot recommends based on its own observations that were aggregated to yield a final decision. By using a technique called spoofing, a hacker can easily infiltrate a multirobot system.

Professor Daniela Rus, “The robotics community has focused on making multirobot systems autonomous and increasingly more capable of developing the science of autonomy. In some sense, we have not done enough about systems-level issues like cyber security and privacy.”

Security for multirobot systems
Researchers including MIT professor Daniela Rus (left) and research scientist Stephanie Gil (right) have developed a technique for preventing malicious hackers from commandeering robot teams’ communication networks. To verify the theoretical predictions, the researchers implemented their system using a battery of distributed Wi-Fi transmitters and an autonomous helicopter.
Photo: M. Scott Brauer

But when we deploy multirobot systems in real applications, we expose them to all the issues that current computer systems are exposed to. If you take over a computer system, you can make it release private data — and you can do a lot of other bad things. A cyber security attack on a robot has all the perils of attacks on computer systems, plus the robot could be controlled to take potentially damaging action in the physical world. So in some sense, there is, even more, an urgency that we think about this problem.

This newly developed technique analyzes the distinctive ways in which robots’ wireless transmissions interact with the environment. It then registers each of them on its own radio fingerprint.

Scientists compared the results of a common coverage algorithm under normal circumstances. They found that the new system is actively thwarting a spoofing attack.

Even when 75 percent of the robots in the system was infiltrated by such attack, the robots’ positioned within 3 centimeters of what they should be.

To confirm the predictions, scientists implemented their system by using a battery of distributed Wi-Fi, transmitters, and an autonomous helicopter. The system generates other types of algorithms beyond coverage.

Typically, radio-based location determination requires an array of receiving antennas. A radio signal traveling through the air reaches the antennas at a slightly different time, a difference that shows up in the phase of the received signals, or the alignment of the crests and troughs of their electromagnetic waves. From this phase information, it’s possible to decide the direction from which the signal arrived.

Through this technique, scientists could easily decide the exact location measurements using only two antennas. They also discounts fraudulent transmissions in proportion to its certainty.

Professor David Hsu said, “The work has important implications, as many systems of this type are on the horizon— networked autonomous driving cars, Amazon delivery drones, et cetera. Security would be a major issue for such systems, even more so than today’s networked computers. This solution is creative and departs completely from traditional defense mechanisms.”


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